Your Savior Complex is Showing

no-candyIn her October 24th post “Why I’m boycotting Halloween” BabyCenter guest blogger Erica Etelson explains why she won’t be giving candy (or anything at all!) to trick-or-treaters coming to her door this year. When it comes to philosophical reasons to boycott this holiday, Etelson’s is likely not the first that comes to mind. For it is not the “worship of satan,” but rather sugar with which she’s taking issue. And while, especially in the U.S., decreasing sugar worship could certainly be deemed virtuous, at what point does spreading the word (especially in the approach Etelson takes to it) peel off the shiny festive wrapper of virtue and expose the overly sugary confection of personal pathology underneath?

Firstly, Etelson quotes the bitter tasting statistics that 26 million Americans have diabetes and shares her personal family history of her father, grandmother, uncle and two cousins’ children becoming diabetic. She goes on to exhort the evils of sugar listing, “obesity, fatty liver disease, high blood pressure and, some believe, cancer,” all as the wages of eating too much of it. Quoting University of California San Francisco endocrinologist Robert Lustig, she asserts, “Sugar [in high doses] is a poison.”

“I’m boycotting Halloween,” she explains, “ because it’s a celebration of something that’s literally killing us.” I would beg to differ with her about what the holiday celebrates, but that’s an entirely different blog post. “Kids need our help avoiding or breaking free from sugar addiction.” Now there’s a point with which I agree, but as we will see, her treatment of this message says more about Etelson’s own possible pathology than it does about the virtue of the message itself.

Etelson proceeds to explain her previous approach to the holiday. “ For the last two years, my three-prong Halloween mitigation strategy has been as follows: (1) Let my son eat a few pieces of candy; (2) buy the rest off him for $20 (and toss it out); and (3) give trick-or-treaters those little boxes of raisins children are so fond of.” Now, I find two word choices particularly interesting, “mitigation” and “prong.” The list of realities needing mitigation in this world could certainly stretch a whole lot farther than the spandex in all the store-bought Halloween costumes this year; however, placing Halloween on par with the rest of the circumstances most often described as needing mitigation (global disasters and epidemics, for example) seems extreme to me. Even more telling, the word prong, the name for an implement, the very purpose of which is to impale, also evidences a plausible underlying emotional imbalance in Etelson’s approach to the holiday.

“This year,” she continues, “we’ll stick with the first two prongs,” and I could further my point with a study of her use of the word “stick,” but in the interest of time… “but, when it comes to my own home, I’m opting out, darkening my doorstep like those Scrooge-like neighbors I so resented when I was a kid…. I’m going to put a note on my front door that says: ‘Sorry, no treats this year. Sugar tastes great but we eat too much of it, and it’s turning us into zombies.’ I may not be the most popular mom on the block, but if I get even one parent to rethink sugar, I’m willing to be the witch who stole Halloween.” And there it is. Whether by intention or simply poor articulation, Etelson’s virtuous message takes a tumble from high intention and begins to look like the savior complex that it has smelled like all along.

Later in the article, Etelson admits that, “When I reveal my plan to friends, they give me that ‘I knew you were a little nuts but now I’m actually worried about you’ look. They say, ‘Come on, it’s just one day a year, don’t be such an extremist.’” I’d be willing to bet that if she expresses her views to these other parents with the same trappings that she inadvertently exposes in her post, they also feel a discomfort about her message on which they can’t quite put their finger, but of which they also can’t shake the feeling. The source of that discomfort, that “icky feeling,” is so hard to pinpoint, we often wrongly assume that it’s our own insecurity manifesting. We assume that since the core of the other person’s message is a virtuous one that any discomfort we feel must originate from our own feelings of inferiority regarding that virtue. However, what we’re really picking up on is a legitimate squeamishness of witnessing what has become a pathological savior complex for the other person.

Her point (prong?) is actually one with which I agree. The average U.S. citizen consumes far too much sugar, but as has been proven time and again through government programs and the diet industry in this country, good health can neither be legislated nor imposed on another person. And this is where Etelson’s strategy begins to more resemble trick than treat. If she truly believes that it is overconsumption at holidays that leads, or largely contributes, to society’s pervasive health crisis, then yes, she has every right to abstain from the holiday. If she, at her core, believes that she’s helping parents and kids come one less KitKat closer to making the right food choices, then, by all means, she should choose to either give a healthy snack as her Halloween treat as she did in years past, or even go as far as to “darken her doorstep,” and completely refuse to participate.

However, the minute she chooses to write and post the sign she describes here, her actions take a turn for the less admirable. Let’s review after all, what this sign really says. Etelson herself points out that it’s up to parents and guardians to regulate how much sugar their children consume. I second that assertion. In fact, I think we could go as far, philosophically, as to call that a fact and no one’s opinion. After all, the choice by a parent to let the child make the wrong decision is still a choice by the parent. Providing guidance to your child in all areas of decision making is arguably the definition of parenting, so let’s go ahead and say that her statement is a fact. Now, let’s read her sign again. “Sorry, no treats this year. Sugar tastes great but we eat too much of it, and it’s turning us into zombies.” Right away, she’s making two damaging assertions by the way she’s phrased this sign.

1. The mere presence of candy means that the child will overconsume. Etelson has no faith in moderation. Again, fine if that’s her opinion, but now she’s imposing it on the children coming to her door. She’s effectively saying, you are not now, and you never will be, capable of making the right choice in the presence of sugar. (While that may be somewhat reading into what she has stated, my next point cannot be refuted if we’re just going by the facts we’ve established.
2. Etelson’s sign now clearly states the message, Your parents (every single one of your parents) are letting you consume too much sugar by participating in this holiday. This is no longer an opinion about the sign. It is not reading into the sign. If we’ve established that it’s up to parents to regulate their children’s sugar intake, and Etelson’s sign states, “we eat too much of it,” then (I believe it’s called the Law of Detachment), Etelson is stating that all parents of children participating in Halloween and thus reading her sign are failing in their duties as parents.

By logical extension, it would seem, Etelson has cast herself as the savior in this circumstance, sparing these errant parents and their misguided children from the option to make a bad choice through any fault of hers. Even if this is not her intention (or perhaps I should say, especially if this is not her intention), she should have taken more care in the way she worded her sign as this logical conclusion is all too easy to reach with the way she’s chosen to share her message.

Notice, I stop just shy of pronouncing that Etelson definitely suffers from a savior complex. I avoid staking such a claim as I don’t know Etelson personally and I possess only the most rudimentary knowledge of psychology and sociology. And, unlike Etelson, I refuse to cast myself as the judge, savior or both for anyone else besides myself and my own children. However, if her core motivation for authoring this post is not a savior complex, then she might want to rethink boycotting Halloween as she did a very good job of dressing it up as one.